"That may be true, but the things I experienced and the choices I made during that month were part of what built what I have with Flynn."
"But you built it," Zoe said. "Jordan came back to the Valley at this time because he was connected. He was a piece that had to be added. You needed to resolve your feelings for him, Dana, that was central. But you might have resolved them differently with the same results. You might have forgiven him. You might have realized that you didn't love him, but you valued your history together. The friendship more than the passion. You could've given up what was between you and still found the key. You're not thinking of orange blossoms because the gods smiled on you."
"Orange blossoms might be carrying it a little far, but okay, I follow you." Absently, Dana plucked a piece of chocolate, nibbled on it as she thought things through. "When you circle it back, it's what we were told from the beginning. Each of us is a key. So what we get out of it, or don't, in the end is of our own maki
"But they manipulate," Zoe added. "They put us together, tossed in the circumstances. Bradley may very well have come back to the Valley, it's his home, and he has ambitions here. But without all this, I would never have met him. Malory might have met Flynn at any time, but it's unlikely I'd have met Bradley Charles Vane IV. And what pulled him to me first? The portrait. Manipulating his feelings."
It riled her up just to think about it. With heat in her eyes, she chomped down on chocolate. "I know it's not a painting now. But the change in him is incidental to them. We needed to be pushed together so I could be led to—or away from—the key. Depending on whose side you're on. If I find it, if I don't, my usefulness is at an end, and so is his. Do you think it matters to them if that usefulness involves hurt, and pain, and loss?"
Her temper began to spike, giving her voice an edge. "If it means that his heart, or mine, ends up broken, they won't give a damn. Isn't it just as likely that heartbreak is what's necessary to that last step? Despair and loss, those are in my clue. And blood," she continued. "It won't be his. I won't risk that even to save three souls."
"Zoe." Malory spoke carefully. "If you already love each other, then haven't you already built your own end?"
"Have we? Or is that my illusion, and what I'll have to sacrifice? There's another part of the clue. How I'm supposed to look at the goddess, know when it's time to pick up the sword, when it's time to lay it down. Do I fight for what I want for me, or do I surrender it for the good of the whole?"
"Those are reasonable and logical suppositions, reasonable and logical questions." Dana held up a hand before Malory could object. "We don't have to like them, but we should give credence to them. Nobody promised we were all going to land in a big bowl of rose petals at the end of this. What we were promised was a big bowl of money."
"Screw the money," Malory shot back.
"I wish I could tell you to bite your tongue, but unfortunately I feel the same way. However," Dana pointed out, "while Zoe has posed those reasonable, logical suppositions, she's left out the parts about hope and joy and fulfillment. The intersecting paths that lead from one to the other."
"I'm sitting in the heart of that joy and hope and fulfillment right now, with both of you." Zoe held her arms out to encompass the room, the whole of what they'd built. "I'm not leaving them out, but I need to be realistic. I have to be, because I want to believe, almost more than I can stand, that when I come to the end of this, with that goddamn key in my hand, I'm going to have a chance for… for more."
"What's next, then?" Dana asked her.
"I need both of you to think about it. You're the only ones who have actually held one of the keys. Dana, you and Jordan and Flynn know Bradley's house almost as well as he does. I'll take all the help I can get."
She pushed to her feet. "But right this minute, we'd better start answering those phones again."
There was only a sliver of moon left, just a thin slice of curve to float in the black sky. Though she wished, desperately, that a storm would blow in full of mean clouds that would cover even that, Zoe couldn't stop staring at the waning light.
She'd looked everywhere. There were times she was certain her eyes or her fingers had passed over that glint of gold. But she was unable to see or touch it.
Unless she did that within the next forty-eight hours, everything Malory and Dana had been through, all they'd accomplished, would be for nothing.
The Daughters of Glass would forever lie still and empty in their crystal coffins.
Bundled in a jacket, she sat out on the rear deck, trying to hold on to that last splinter of hope.
"It's here. I know it. What am I missing? What haven't I done that I'm supposed to do?"
"Mortals," Kane said from behind her, "look toward what they call the heavens and ask what to do, what to think."
As Zoe froze, he skimmed a fingertip along the base of her neck. She felt the touch like a line of ice.
"It amuses me."
His soft boots made no sound as he walked around her to lean casually back against the deck's railing.
He was so breathtakingly handsome, she thought. Made for the dark. For moonless nights, for storms.
"You've failed," he announced matter-of-factly.
"I haven't." The cold was creeping into her bones, so she had to fight the urge to shiver. "There's time left."
"It ekes away, minute by minute. And when that last sliver of moon is dark, I will have all. And you will have nothing."